Peace Like a River

by Leif Enger

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Is Reuben a likeable character in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River?

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Reuben Land is indeed a likeable character in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. As an eleven-year-old boy, he has a surprisingly wise view of events and of people. We may also be drawn to Reuben because of the circumstances of his life and his loyalty to his family. Let's look at this in more detail.

Reuben did not get a particularly easy start in life. He was born not breathing, and had no oxygen for twelve minutes until his father, Jeremiah, ordered him to breathe. Reuben, then, is something of a miracle child, and this has affected his perspective. He still has weak lungs, though, and this, too, affects his view of life. He thinks that he is the best person to witness his father's miracles, and he tends to be quite mature for his eleven years. All of these things make us interested in Reuben, who could have easily fallen into the trap of self-pity and bitterness, yet has not. He accepts his life for what it is and tries to make the best of it.

Reuben struggles alongside the rest of his family when two bullies, Israel and Tommy, begin terrorizing the Lands after Reuben's father stopped them from harming a girl. Reuben's older brother, Davy, ends up killing the two young men. Jeremiah loses his job and gets sick, and Reuben and his younger sister, Swede, must care for their father. Despite his own weakness, Reuben gets a job and earns money to buy food. He is determined to do what he must to get his family through the hard times.

Later in the novel, Jeremiah, Reuben, and Swede follow Davy, now a fugitive, out west. Reuben learns where he is and must make a difficult decision about whether to share his location with their father and the agent trying to find his brother. He learns, too, that Davy is in danger because he is with hardened criminal Jape Waltzer. Reuben prays for guidance, then decides he must speak. He feels he has betrayed his brother. We can certainly understand his dilemma and pity him for it. Reuben accepts that he has to speak up, not only for the safety of Davy but also for the agent, Mr. Andreeson. He must do what is right, no matter how hard it is; Reuben's choices in these hard times make him both a likeable and admirable character.

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